As the youth-led Freedom Movement of 2011 spreads rapidly across the Middle East and around the world, one can only wonder what would be happening in Iraq today if the U.S. had not invaded eight years ago. What does the movement portend for the rights of women in other nations, such as Tunisia and in the United States?
The rights of women continue to deteriorate in Iraq under the U.S. installed Shiite government; their status is now threatened by Islamists in Tunisia, the most secular of Arab nations; and their personal liberties are under a full-scale assault in the United States by Christian fundamentalist politicians.
Under the Ba'athist government led by Saddam Hussein, Iraqi women enjoyed greater freedom than women in most other Arab nations and they played an active role in the political, economic and educational development of the nation.
The 1970 Constitution formally guaranteed equal rights to women and ensured their right to obtain an education, own property, vote and be elected to political offices. Iraq acceded to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1986.
At a cost of more than one trillion dollars, "Operation Iraqi Freedom" has slaughtered more than 100,000 Iraqis, including thousands of children, and taken away the existing rights of women.
President Bush often bragged that "Iraq is free of rape rooms;" however, his illegal invasion of Iraq not only exposed its women to rape by U.S. soldiers and mercenaries, but rape is "increasingly used as a weapon by warring tribal factions."
The new Iraqi constitution adopted after the invasion requires that women hold 25% of the seats in the parliament; however, it also provides that no law can contradict the "established rulings of Islam." Thus, the personal rights of women are subject to the interpretation of religious leaders, and they are being officially curtailed by the Shiite-controlled government.
Iraqi women must now submit to any male authority, including boys as young as 12 years old, and they are being attacked and murdered "for working, dressing "inappropriately" or attending university." There are more than three million widows in Iraq today, and sex trafficking has become widespread, as there is no little or no opportunity for other employment.
Opposition to the corrupt and failed Iraqi government has led to recent freedom demonstrations by thousands of protesters in the cities of Sulaimaniya, Falluja, and Nassiriya Province, and Baghdad. These demonstrations are being suppressed by the Iraqi security forces using U.S. supplied weapons and intimidation tactics, including raids on the office of the Iraqi organization that monitors press freedom.
The U.S. mainstream media and the Obama Administration have been largely silent about the Iraqi demonstrations; however, fair-minded Americans, liberal and conservative alike, should conclude that, absent the invasion, the young people of Iraq would be in the forefront of the Freedom Movement of 2011.
Given other choices, thousands of human lives would not have been wasted; billions of dollars would have been better spent in the improvement, rather than the destruction of those lives; and the United States would enjoy greater respect for the freedoms it purports to support and defend.
The site of ancient Cartage and the breadbasket of the Roman Empire, Tunisia obtained its independence from the "protection" of France in 1957. Habib Bourguiba, the leader of the independence movement and the Destourian Socialist Party, was elected president, and for the next 30 years he presided over a largely secular government.
Bourguiba was succeeded in 1987 by Zine Ben Ali, the minister of national security, who had been trained as a military officer in France and the United States. Receiving financial support from the United States, President Zine established a repressive police state and used police action again militant Islamic groups.